How many times have you been to a restaurant and heard someone utter the words, “My Thai staff are so incompetent!” followed by a long sigh? It’s happened to me over a dozen times in a dozen different restaurants while in Thailand. It’s very true that the Thai staff have a different and sometimes strange way of thinking when it comes to working under an expat. I myself being what is referred to as a lookkrueng, or a child of two halves understand where both parties are coming from. This is what both Thai’s and their expat superiors need to see, the view of both sides.
From the Thai side, they see expats as people who are generally very professional and willing to understand the divide in the two cultures. However there are some pointers that Thai staff generally would like to give to new expats. Firstly, when working with your Thai staff, it is important not underestimate their ability. Many times there have been situations where expats have been transferred to be the head or support of the business activities and think that they know everything after only being here for a short period of time.
Another thing that Thais would like to point out to expats is that they have been brought up a different way than their expat counter parts. It is not usual for the education system to encourage questioning superiors in Thailand. As a result this often leads to misunderstandings because Thai staff are too shy to ask for clarification. It is the responsibility for the expat to ask if the Thai staff understand (usually repeating the instructions work best). Lastly, along with the Thai mentality of not questioning superiors, expats needs to lead the staff in their work and stay close and aware of what they are doing so that the staff are never wondering what their next task is. But leading them is not enough, because they don’t tend to speak out (even if they know something is very wrong!), it is suggested that the boss ask for input from the Thai staff.
It often seems that the Thai staff are never at fault, and that the expat just needs to get a grasp on how the Thai working mentality functions, however this is far from the case. After listening to Thais I have realized that many do admit in their faults. It is common for them to realize that their punctuality is less than perfect and that blaming lateness on traffic jams can only get you so far. Thais do admit that their professionalism is not up to that of their foreign counter parts and that they need to change their “play first and do work” attitude.
In conclusion to get the most out of your Thai staff, it is suggested that more communication is needed and that if you accept these basic observations, things between you and your Thai staff should go more smoothly. Understanding both sides of the coin provides opportunities for expats to create working environments that can counter the above problems.
Written by Ben Henderson
Edited by Stuart Blott, General Manager, Sutlet Group